Like most of her customers, Elizabeth Migliore isn’t a vegetarian. But the owner of Jersey City Veggie Burgers said she began experimenting with vegetarian burger recipes after seeing the less-than-healthy ingredients included in most commercial veggie burgers on the market.
After testing several recipes in her home kitchen, Migliore took her products to the streets. In May she launched her business and began selling her homemade veggie burgers at the farmers markets at Hamilton Park and Grove Plaza this year. Now she’s ready to take Jersey City Veggie Burgers to the next level.
Migliore last month became the first Garden State business accepted into the international micro-lending program known as Kiva Zip.
So much soy
Many customers – especially non-vegetarians – might not realize it, but a number of vegetarian foods actually aren’t all that healthy.
“When you eat a vegetarian diet, a lot of vegetarian foods that are on the market right now rely heavily on soy from tofu or seitan, and they’re not good for you in large quantities,” said Migliore.
Both tofu and seitan are popular meat substitutes in many vegetarian and “fake meat” products.
“I married a vegetarian and I eat mainly vegetarian at home,” Migliore said. “We try to limit how much soy we eat. But my husband eats veggie burgers all the time and I used to look at the ingredients and think, ‘Oh, they’re awful.’ All of the name brand veggie burgers are mostly soy. So, I started trying to cook better quality veggie burgers for him and found that I really liked coming up with different healthy recipes.”
She eventually developed two veggie burger recipes that she now sells at the local farmers markets. One is a sweet potato/collard green burger and the other is a white bean/broccoli/rabe burger.
“They are my own original recipes and I do all the cooking,” she said.
Migliore has, ironically, incorporated her knowledge of meat into her own vegetarian food business. The descendant of an Italian immigrant great-grandfather who came to Jersey City at the turn of the 20th Century and who opened a butcher shop downtown, Migliore’s grandfather and father were also butchers by trade.
“My dad is a great cook,” said Migliore. “He’s one of those people who can open the kitchen cupboard and take out a couple different ingredients at random – beans and grains – and mix them together and make a really great meal out of it.”
It’s a skill that has, apparently rubbed off on his daughter, with some success, given the popularity of her burgers downtown.
$4,000 in micro lending
But while her recipes have been in demand at the farmers markets this year, and are now available at the recently opened Doco Market and Café, at 29 McWilliams St., Migliore wants to expand her line-up of veggie burger offerings and make her products more widely available. To do that, however, she knows she will need a higher-grade food processor, a portable freezer, a generator, and other supplies to make her operation more professional. And accomplishing that requires money, about $4,000, in Migliore’s estimation.
Now, thanks to lenders from across the country and the globe, Migliore is more than halfway toward her goal.
At the recommendation of Jersey City-based Rising Tide Capital, Migliore last month became the first Garden State business accepted into the international micro lending program known as Kiva Zip, the U.S. branch of Kiva.
Through Kiva, which was launched in 2005, people can lend small amounts of money – as little as $25 – to small businesses around the world. Thus far, Kiva has primarily benefited businesses in developing nations. Kiva Zip is an experimental U.S.-based branch of Kiva that is trying to do for businesses in the U.S. what the parent Kiva has done for businesses in places like South Asia and Africa.
Both Kiva and Kiva Zip offer capital to small businesses that might not have access to traditional pools of capital.
Kiva Zip has already launched in California and Michigan, but Migliore’s Jersey City Veggie Burgers is the first business in New Jersey to be approved for inclusion in the program.
Through the program, small entrepreneurs like Migliore can borrow up to $5,000 a year from ordinary people who make small loans to support her work. While Kiva borrowers pay interest on their loans, during the pilot phase of Kiva Zip borrowers like Migliore will not be required to pay interest.
The Kiva web site claims the organization’s borrowers have a repayment rate of 87.3 percent.
“Rising Tide Capital nominated me as a candidate for this loan,” said Migliore, who went through Rising Tide’s Community Business Academy in the spring of 2011. “Rising Tide came to me and asked if I was interested. I thought this was a great opportunity to get a business loan, which isn’t something I would have been able to do or have the resources to do on my own. This just seemed like a great way to get the capital that I needed.”
As of last week, Migliore had raised $2,425 in Kiva Zip loans from lenders from as far away as England, Texas, and California. Interestingly, her only loan from Hudson County has come from a resident in Hoboken. She now needs $1,575 to reach her $4,000 goal.
“Up until now, this has been a part-time effort for me. But through the winter I’m hoping to maintain the grocery store account that I have with Doco and add more,” Migliore said. “So, I’ll be looking for other supermarkets or smaller, independent stores in Jersey City and the Hudson County area that will stock the burgers. I want to be in a position to ramp up so that when the spring rolls around and the next farmers market season comes up I can make this a full-time effort and have a lot of things in place so it will make the business more efficient and easier to operate.”
To see Migliore’s Kiva Zip profile, visit https://zip.kiva.org/loans/385, or see the link on her business web site, http://www.jerseycityveggieburgers.com.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.